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GIRLS are natural twisters: remembering the hit film Gregory’s Girl (1981)

 

The month of June 2016 brings a football-watching frenzy for British football fans. We will be glued to our television sets and affixing our national flags to our car-roofs as England, Northern Ireland and Wales set off for France to play in the UEFA European Championship finals.

 

But oh dear – there is a notable absentee from the UK representation. Scotland didn’t qualify, so  their radio and television sets won’t be tuning in for patriotic purpose. However, if we turn back the calendar to 1981 we can put Scotland in the limelight, in a footballing sense. Do you remember the Gregory’s Girl phenomenon, that year? - although ‘phenomenon’ is not perhaps the best word to convey the mass popularity of a film whose essential charm lay in its quiet lack of pretention. Gregory’s Girl was a light comedy of social manners, featuring a group of teenage schoolchildren roging up on a housing estate on the outskirts of Glasgow. It was a low-budget film with a cast of mostly young and unknown actors and actresses. As such, it was an unlikely bet to become a mainstream box-office hit.

 

And yet, as I well remember, the word went round in 1981 that despite its apparent ordinariness, Gregory’s Girl had a very special charm, and it was worth making the effort to see it. And then before you knew it, everyone including you had seen it, and was talking about it. Universally, it was enjoyed. (I have never seen or heard a bad word said against it).

 

Why the British public fell head over heels in love with Gregory’s Girl

 

When I watch Gregory’s Girl again today, four decades on from its original release, I find that it can be enjoyed and appreciated still. This is so on several different levels. For example, you might like to arm yourself with pencil and notebook, and see how many things you can spot happening at the school (a large mixed comprehensive) that health & safety wouldn’t allow today. My advice would be: don’t try! – unless you want to get writer’s cramp! I think there was one generic reason and one specific reason for Gregory’s Girl grabbing its high degree of audience interest and affection. The generic reason was the setting of the story within a school. I think we can fairly say that most of us enjoy a school story in a book or film – the more so if there is humour and realism that will transport us back to our own childhoods and evoke some recognisable memories.

 

However, the really smart trick by the storywriter Bill Forsyth was the specific plot-line in Gregory’s Girl of a girl playing football in the boys’ team. The sheer originality, not to say audacity of this idea was a sure-fire winner from the start. It certainly caught the attention of the male population at large. Add the ingredient that the girl footballer was an attractive auburn-haired lass, and you had only to stand outside the cinema to hear the collective “PHWOAR!” that was exhaled by hundreds of male sex-maniac football fans sitting inside while Gregory’s Girl was being screened. It was pleasing to me that Bill Forsyth shied away from any notion that the story should follow a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ path, ending with something corny like Dorothy scoring a last-minute winning goal for the school team to win the district cup.

 

 The girls were one step ahead …

 

In fact, the football storyline, and Dorothy herself, gradually fizzled out. This allowed ‘the birds and the bees’ to come to the forefront of the story. Gregory’s calf-love for Dorothy, and the squirm-inducing agony that he went through when asking her out for a date, had already hinted at the ending that was to come in Gregory’s Girl, although the audience was not to know that the girls were one step ahead and were engineering for Gregory a quite different evening from the one that he was expecting. Was there a natural male and female divide amongst the audience, at that juncture of the story? The males wanted to see Gregory get off with the gorgeous Dorothy? The females, although they secretly fancied Gregory themselves, wanted Dorothy to play hard to get?

 

In 1981 I still believed that ‘boys are natural twisters’, according to the words in the hit song You Know What I Mean (1962, The Vernons Girls, no. 16 in the UK chart). But Gregory’s Girl reveals the truer truth that it is usually the GIRLS that do all the twisting and the selecting, when it comes to the ways of love. There are some delightful little touches of wit in the story. I love for instance the scene when Carol tells Gregory to wait on the pavement while she jumps into a telephone box and changes into a low-cut top and short skirt in preparation for her night out on the town. We can imply the blissful ignorance of her parents regarding their daughter’s change of costume before reaching her destination. I like too Sue’s insouciant smile as she stands, softly whistling to herself, while Gregory desperately tries to act cool and look as if he is in command of the situation after the take-it- or-leave-it revelation that Sue – not Dorothy, not Carol, not Margo will be his substitute date for the evening.

 

 I love also the scene-stealing little interludes that bring Gregory’s younger sister Madeline to the fore. She is aged only ten, but is very knowing. Typical of many younger sisters she is feisty and she is nobody’s fool. There is some lovely dialogue when Gregory returns home after bidding goodnight to Sue at the end of their date. If he thought that Madeline would be sound asleep – it is after 11pm – he is soon to find himself under interrogation as she slips into his room:

 

 Madeline:  Did you kiss her?

Gregory:    Nooooooooo! Maybe tomorrow …

Madeline:  Liar! I saw you. You kissed her about fifty times!

 

 If there is one thing above all that lends charm to the film Gregory’s Girl I would say that it’s the entrancing Scottish accents and dialect. Thankfully for a Sassenach like me, the accents are pitched just right – so that I can understand what is being said, but I can still enjoy the delightful light brogue. In the USA, the recently reissued DVD of Gregory’s Girl includes an option to use a newly-recorded soundtrack with more ‘English-sounding’ voices. I can understand the distributors’ nervousness that the too-Scottish accents might defeat an American audience, but please, no! – you can’t rob Gregory’s Girl of its original soundtrack; it is a veritable tartan treasure! 

 

Jerry Dowlen

May 2016

 

Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:

 

The Impact and Legacy of Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

A Tribute to Margaret Forster

Remembering Saeed Jaffrey

Old Wine in New Bottles - "new" books by Margery Allingham, Raymond Chandler & Agatha Christie

Remembering Ruth Rendell

Philip Larkin: His Maiden Voyage on The North Ship (1945)

The Catcher in the Rye and Billy Liar

Michael Holroyd

Erle Stanley Gardner

John Masefield

Bailouts

Antony Sher: The History Man

Edmund Crispin, Crime Fiction Author

Computer Chess: The Imitation Game

P G Wodehouse

John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green

Daniel Abse

Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution

Wilfred Owen

Wolf Mankowitz

Bob Hoskins

Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam

The Story of Edith Nesbit

Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert

Rebels With A Cause

Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective

The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas

The Bergerac Police Adventure Series

It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene

Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers

The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym

D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...

 


 

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